Spontaneous walkouts at Airbus: the workers make their voices heard

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As we go to press, and the day after the first round of the Presidential elections, we have learned that the workers of the Airbus factories have again expressed their anger against the attacks of capital.

On Wednesday 25 April, the management announced a rise in bonuses for this year: 2.88 euros[1].

Feeling that they were being treated like dogs being thrown a few scraps, the Airbus workers reacted immediately. In Toulouse first of all, anger on the shop floor turned into struggle. One assembly line decided to stop work on the spot and without any warning, then the workers went to other shops to ask them to go with them to the managers’ offices. From shop to shop the determination not to let this get through was growing. One worker recounted his experience: “yesterday when I arrived at 1600h, everyone in my section was aware of the 2.88 euro bonus. The guys refused to work, and a spontaneous strike movement broke out. The whole FAL (assemblage section) followed suite”. And this striker insisted that this was a spontaneous reaction against the advice of the unions: “a union official spoke to us and tried to get us to go back to work, saying that the symbolism of this movement had been noted, but that now it would be good to get back to work”. What this testimony reveals is that the unions are patent saboteurs of the struggle and that the workers will more and more be obliged to count only themselves if they want to fight back. Thus, a union official, concerned about his loss of control, tried to ‘discretely’ inform his members about the strength of the workers’ militancy and implicitly asked them to calm down: “This action was not a trade union initiative. We have to take care about what we’re doing”.

The same scenario at St Nazaire and Nantes. There was a great deal of indignation. The workers followed in the footsteps of their colleagues in Toulouse by launching ‘wildcat’ strikes. They then left the factory en masse to block the entrance. And here again it was without and even against the union offices. “This didn’t come from any union. This came from the fact that the workers themselves are completely fed up”, one worker said to the press. On both sites, the announcement of a derisory bonus was felt as an insult, rubbing salt into the wounds of daily pressure and suffering: “we are being asked to work extra hours on Saturday even though they’re not hiring anyone new and temporary contracts are not being renewed” as another worker angrily put it. 2.88 euros: within a few hours, this figure had become a symbol of the inhumanity of the worker’s condition.

Obviously, in Toulouse as in St Nazaire, the unions, though unable to prevent this explosion of workers’ anger, very quickly regained control of the situation and jumped onto the bandwagon. Thus, as a worker from the Toulouse factory remarked, “a few hours later, before the mid-day meal in my shop, FO had organised a simulated walk-out while carefully avoiding inviting all the workers to join in”.

By acting collectively against their exploiters, by refusing to be treated like cattle, the Airbus workers have shown what the dignity of the working class means. They have made a clear statement: faced with incessant attacks by the bosses and the state, there is no solution except united struggle. Despite all the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie aimed at setting workers against each other, the social situation is marked by a growing tendency towards active solidarity between proletarians. A St Nazaire worker put it very plainly: “we wanted to act in solidarity with the movement in Toulouse”. By going from line to line, shop to shop, then plant to plant, this reaction by the Airbus workers shows the road that the whole working class has to take in response to the bourgeoisie’s endless provocations. It also shows that the trade unions are indeed a force for capitalist discipline. In the months and years to come, the workers will have no choice but to face up to union sabotage in order to develop class unity and solidarity.

Finally, these explosions of anger at Airbus (as well as the multitude of small strikes in the car industry, the post, among the teachers, etc) show that despite the whole election barrage and the ‘triumph of democracy’, there is no truce in the class struggle.

Beatrice 24.4.07 (translated from RI 379 )

[1] This outrageous announcement could well be a provocation to help get through the details of the job-cuts announced on 27 April. This doesn’t alter the fact that the spontaneous reaction of the workers was exemplary.


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